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[Chalice] Let Us Be Thankful [Chalice]

Presented November 25, 2007, by Melissa Holden

Opening Words

For the blessings you've bestowed upon this church and on this church family, For all the days we've had together and all the days to come, For the joys and sorrows that bind us ever closer, For the trials we've overcome, And for teaching us that we can do no great things only small things with great love, let us give thanks

The Reading is by Theodore Parker

Be ours a religion...

Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere;
its temple, all space;
its shrine, the good heart;
its creed, all truth;
its ritual, works of love;
its profession of faith, divine living.

This One Meal
Excerpted November 24, 2005 Editorial NY Times

Somehow Thanksgiving always recalls the past. The question is which past? For most of us, the Pilgrims and their sufferings are no more real than the thought of a cold November day without central heating. The richest part of our imagination is bounded by childhood, and when we think of an authentic, historical Thanksgiving, we tend to mean the kind of feast we ate when the adults all seemed so much bigger and wiser and funnier - a feast that is authentic right down to the Jell-O salad, if you come from the Jell-O salad part of the country.

If you happen to be old enough, you celebrated Thanksgiving, as a child, in the company of adults who grew up during the Great Depression or came of age during World War II. What they tended to bring to the feast was a keen sense of gratitude.

"When I was your age," the stories began, stories of deprivation that contained within them a certain wonder at the abundance the storytellers found around them - not just the richness of the table itself, but the warmth and illumination of the houses, the way they kept a dark, wet November at bay. It was hard to hear those stories without feeling a certain skepticism. If life had been that difficult, why did grown-ups enjoy talking about it so much?

We often find it hard to be as thankful as we should be these days. For so many Americans, it is no longer a question of having too little or having enough. It's the difference between having too much and having way, way too much. It is too easy to forget, amid this abundance, that all across America a different kind of Great Depression is still going on. The old stories would have been told very differently - if they were told at all - if they had been tales of growing up poor in the midst of wealth. There was no shame in the collective poverty of the Great Depression. There is no shame in the poverty Americans suffer today. The shame adheres to those who do nothing to change it.

Perhaps it isn't necessary to have gone hungry in order to be thankful for eating well. In a land of economic entitlement, gratitude may be almost too old-fashioned to sustain for more than this one day. But then there is something to be said for an old-fashioned holiday like this one. For a moment, we grasp how rich we are, how close we feel to the ones around us, and we give thanks before it all seems merely normal again.

So speaking of thanks, and traditions and mindfulness, let's think about grace and the ways we proclaim our thankfulness. If almost half of all Americans say grace in their daily lives, as a Gallup poll found several years ago, that means half do not. So for those who say grace only as often as they gather around a turkey, deciding what - if anything - to say can be a challenge. For many people, the memory of Dad or Grandpa saying grace at Thanksgiving is intertwined with the memory of a seat at the kids table. But when Grandpa or Dad is gone, there's a moment of terror when the adult child remembers that he's the head of the family now and the blessing is his job. Oh, what to say?

And then, some families struggle with religious differences, others with religious indifference. And in a year that has been marked by war and natural disaster, the simple task of giving thanks may be more complicated. But guests may be relieved to hear grace at this one meal.

It could be said that many people are embarrassed to pray, but they yearn to do it, even if they don't have the guts to do it. And so the opportunity presents itself well at Thanksgiving. For even in households where grace before meals is not a regular feature, many people don't feel right about diving into the meal on Thanksgiving. They want to express gratitude to - whatever. Defining that "whatever" can be its own source of discord.

Maybe some of you have had everyone just go around the table and say something they were grateful for. Now, word of advice, this can sometimes end badly, especially if your guests have been imbibing to try to make it through the afternoon with insufferable Uncle Fred and Grandma's prejudice, which seems to grow with every passing year, and cousin Tina's third husband, well you know. Just remind everyone before starting that they were blessed to wake up this morning and "if they can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

But seriously, traditional blessings are not always adequate for modern situations. You might have Buddhists, Jews, lapsed Catholics and even a Republican at your table. So whatever the manner of thanks, it is not unusual to be nervous at offering it.

To smooth over such moments, however, the meat and poultry giant, Tyson Foods, recently published a small book titled "Giving Thanks at Mealtime," with blessings of many faiths.

Tyson's management is firmly religious - one of the company's core values is "We strive to be a faith-friendly company" - but it has barely promoted the book other than offering it at no charge on its Web site and still, the company says, it has received orders for more than 60,000 copies in 10 weeks.

So you may not be religious enough to go to a Christian bookstore and buy a prayer book, but you could be religious enough to click a link for one on the Internet.

So here are few words of thanks from the Tyson Foods Book of Thanks:

'Round the table peace and joy prevail. May all who share this meal's delight enjoy countless more.

And this one we all probably said even in public school:

Thank you for the food we eat; Thank you for the friends we meet; Thank you for our work and play; Thank you, God, for a happy day.

And there's

We thank you, loving Father, For all your tender care, For food, and clothes, and shelter, And all your world so fair.

Or

For every cup and plateful, May the Lord make us truly grateful.

And

Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies, and our bodies to Thy service. For we ask these things in Thy name. Amen

And here's one from the U.S. Coast Guard Chaplain Program

Our Father, we are mindful of those who have friends but no food...and those who have food but no friends. We thank you this day we have both. Help us to befriend the friendless and to share our substance with those who hunger. Amen

And this

This ritual is One. The food is One. We who offer the food are One. The fire of hunger is also One. All action is One. We who understand this are One.

And this

Now that I am about to eat, O Great Spirit, give my thanks to the beasts and birds whom You have provided for my hunger, and pray deliver my sorrow that living things must make a sacrifice for my comfort and well-being. Let the feather of corn spring up in its time and let it not wither but make full grains for the fires of our cooking pots, now that I am about to eat.

And for some, this will suffice

Good food, Good treats, Good God, Let's eat!

For those who are no longer with us, these are the closing words

The Gathering by Billy Collins

Outside, the scene was right for the season,
Heavy gray clouds and just enough wind
To blow down the last of the yellow leaves.

But the house was different that day,
So distant from the other houses,
Like a planet inhabited by only a dozen people

With the same last name and the same nose
Rotating slowly on its invisible axis.
Too bad you couldn't be there.

But you were flying through space on your own asteroid
With you arm around an uncle.
You would have unwrapped your scarf

And thrown your coat on top of the pile
Then lifted a glass of wine
As a tiny man ran across the screen with a ball.

You would have heard me
Saying grace with my elbows on the tablecloth
As one of the twins threw a dinner roll
Across the room at the other.

©2007 Melissa Holden

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Holden, Melissa. 2007. Let Us Be Thankful, http://www.uuquincy.org /talks/20071125.shtml (accessed December 17, 2018).

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